The (continued) case for higher ed

The only problem with colleges and universities is that they have become profit machines essentially barring students of limited means from attending.

The core of what colleges and universities do have probably never been more important.

I fully understand that there is a lot of talk about certification for specific skills being the future of higher education. But let’s just start with agreeing that one of the main reasons for that is what i mention in the first sentence:

The old model has become too expensive. It’s not broken per se. It’s just too damn expensive for most people.

So what’s good about college and (to some extend) university? Essentially what many people claim is bad (apart from the costs):

Generalization.

There is a lot of chatter that generalists are on their way out because specialists are all we need.

I think it’s a mix.

Yes, we need specialists. More so than ever. If for nothing else due to the sheer complexity of many specialities.

But we also need these specialties to be built upon a solid foundation; a more generalist approach and experience that serves as a guidance for how the specialty comes to fruition on a more practical level.

Being a generalist is a big part of how we are equipped to think, decide and act in various situations. Cutting that away generally leaves us with a hammer without necessarily understanding how to identify and pin point the right nail.

It makes us smaller contributors, not bigger.

Thus we’re back at the outset and the real problem:

The solution to the higher education problem is not discarding education and replace it with certification alone. It is making sure that higher education is accessible to talent, so that we can reap the rewards. Both as individuals and as society.

Higher education profit maximization is essentially choosing short term optimization at the expense of longer term profit for all.

It’s actually pretty stupid, when you think about it.

Via Futurist Speaker

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Short term joy, long term agony

One of the things that I have been spending a lot of time on these last couple of years is the subject of university research and how to transform the best of it into viable spinouts that can go on to solve real problems in the world.

There is no doubt that the potential within this space is huge. There is a lot of very good research coming out of universities, and there sure are enough big problems to creatively deploy that research towards.

However, there are various pitfalls that make it hard to create spinouts that are truly viable and have the potential to conquer the market and solve the problems that were envisioned at founding.

In a series of posts, I will be trying to address these, based on my experience. And what better way than to start out with one of the real kickers:

Ownership. Now and in the future.

Whenever you start a company, who gets what is always a solid discussion and potential point of contention. And it is no different when it comes to building spinouts.

Often the research team will have a pretty strong idea about what their research is worth, and of course that value assessment is going to skyrocket the more breakthrough the innovation is.

This self-valuation also leads to outsize demands on ownership, and you can argue it is a valid point. I mean, if a team has spent years doing great research, and outsiders only come in to take it to market, shouldn’t the original team get the brunt of the equity?

That depends.

If the goal just is to create a spinout, get it registered and give it a go, sure. But if the goal is to build a viable company that will be here for long term, grow and deliver on the mission, it is by no means a sure thing.

Basically the reason for that is that you need ressources to grow and succeed. Ressources come in two main shapes and forms: People and funding.

People – great people you need to build your spinout and make it successful – will only join if they’re incentivized to do so. Especially if they are to have a key role in the early team. That means for founders – ie researchers – that they need to reallocate up front a sizeable portion of their equity for incentives, ex a warrant programme.

Failure to do so will leave you with a spinout that will have nothing but the original team, lack muscle and knowhow for important tasks and never go anywhere.

The other type of ressource is funding. And it is tied to the talent doing the actual work that will ultimately ensure commercial success and deliver the investors a sizeable return on the risk, they’re taking by investing.

If investors – especially sizable ones who can deliver the size of checks needed to make it big – see that early team members, ie researchers, are insisting on sitting on equity for doing nothing in the day-to-day business, while those who are supposed to do the work either get to little or get nothing at all and thus won’t join, it is a walk-away.

The result?

The spinouts run into a wall. It will be absent of needed talent and absent of funding. And its changes of converting promising, potentially breakthrough, research into market success and ultimate contribute to solving the core problem, the company was founded on, will be slim to none.

And it will be primarily because the founding team – predominantly the researchers – confused short term success with long term success.

The lesson here?

Think about the long term and think about what is needed to get to the success that you envision. Think about the things you will have to do to ensure you get to that point and make a decision:

Am I in this for the long haul to affect a change where my research solves a big problem? Or am I in this purely for myself and my own retirement?

(And yes, I know it can be a combo, but that’s beside the point here).

If the answer is the latter, be aware that you will struggle and – most likely – fail before you get to where you want to be.

If the answer is the former, come to peace with the fact that you have to sacrifice something to get a bigger reward.

Not only will your equity be worth something rather than nothing (in the above example). You will also be far better positioned to achieve success because you enable those factors that are absolutely necessary for you to succeed.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

RIP display ads biz model

Google can own over half of the digital advertising market, cut its direct rival off at the knees, and receive widespread praise for having done so, even as users give out less personally identifiable information in exchange for being more easily profiled. Yay?

“Google’s Ad Announcement, The Privacy Sandbox, Google’s Advantage”, Stratechery ($$$)

The display ad market has long being a dying horse as a business model. Google is effectively putting the last nail in its coffin by going with cohorts and tracking through browsers rather than traditional cookies.

They own everything, and they are the only ones with the scale to make it truly work.

Game over.

If business reliant on display advertising as their business model haven’t woken up yet and started transforming their business model yet, this is the final call.

Tech power to the people

When we talk about the gig economy and using technology to enable great new services for customers, we mostly talk about them from the perspective of the platforms; innovative tech, great user experiences, new business models, regulations – and valuations.

Which is exactly why it is so interesting that the table is starting to get turned now.

Not only have politicians in several countries been debating new regulation and how to classify gig workers in terms of their ‘partnership’ with said platforms (London is the latest example). Gig workers are also starting to deploy tech themselves.

UberCheats is a great example of this.

It is basically an extension for the Chrome browser that allows a rider for UberEats to calculate the correct distance travelled with an order and compare it to UberEats own registrations, which – is claimed – are often based on direct point-to-point distances (straight lines) rather than the actual available route to get there.

The extension was released last summer but was removed by Uber following a complaint about trademark infringement. But now it’s back again after Google sided with the developer following an appeal.

Irrespective of the plugin in question, it is super interesting that gig workers are starting to turn the ‘weapons’ of the big platforms against themselves. Take the power back, so to say.

In that respect the case has some comparisons to the whole Gamestop/Reddit/hedge fund debacle recently. Here the masses got together and turned on Wall St for a couple of frantic weeks leading to huge losses on short positions of Gamestop stock at a couple of hedge funds (and with private investors who failed to get out and were left holding the bag).

It is a sign that access to technology has been democratized in such a way that nothing is keeping anyone from just accepting to be at the short end of the stick.

While that is super interesting in itself, it is also super interesting, because it has the potential to pick at the fundamental power structures of this interconnected age.

And who knows what might end up coming out of that?

Gamestop/Reddit and UberCheats may just be the very beginning of people using tech to take the power back from tech.

Interesting times.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The superior Apple experience

My girlfriend and I have decided to build a new home for ourselves and our two daughters.

The other day we got a VR model of our new home from the developer. Besides it being a very strange feeling to take the first virtual steps in our new home, it also cemented a great point about Apple as a tech ecosystem versus anybody else.

At work I used our Airtame in one of the meeting rooms to project the VR model from my phone to the big screen. It could be done, but the experience of moving around had quite a lot of latency, so I quickly gave up on it.

At home in the evening, I projected the same model to our TV using our Apple TV. And the experience was just fluid and flawless, and we could really enjoy walking around our new home on the big screen rather than on the small iPhone screen.

The Apple tech ecosystem just worked. Flawlessly.

I think there is a larger point here:

Apple is not only about great products and services in itself. It is about being better together. It is about creating a premium experience that is designed to – at every twist and turn – reinforce the feeling that you made the right decision when you chose to engulf yourself into the Apple ecosystem.

And continuously pay a premium for the privilege of doing so.

For me that is the real beauty about Apple and it’s business model that makes it stand out above and beyond the rest out there. It is incredibly powerful.

But – and here is the word of warning – it is also hard to be truly inspired by. Because there is only one Apple. And there will (most likely) continue to be only one Apple.

And no, you or your company will never be like Apple. You need to know that and be at peace with that.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fully enjoy and get inspired by the Apple experience.

Via Product Coalition

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Regulation as a business model

One of the most potent business models, you can have, is if the use of your product or service is directly mandated by law. Or, in the absence of the complete model, heavily subsidized by law.

When something becomes a law, it automatically drives decisions; people and organizations are required to do x, y and purchase z – your product – to stay within the law or at least get subsidized by the government (which has roughly the same effect on helping grow your revenues).

What could be better?

Let’s say you’re in HealthTech. You may not necessarily be required by law, but indirectly the laws governing subsidies for specific treatments can materialize into official recommendation for treatments that specifically includes your product or service.

You become a de facto public standard.

If you can make it to this point, you have really got it made.

Getting there, though, is super, super hard. Because if there are things, you don’t control and should have no ambition to even try to control let alone influence heavily, it’s lawmaking and the creation of rules and regulations.

Ok, you could have the ambition to influence it. But the obvious risk is that by choosing that as a focus, you end up spending your time and effort in the wrong way.

Because no matter your best efforts, you have absolutely no guarantee that you will end up being successful in your endeavors. Quite on the contrary; the overwhelming risk is that you will come up short. And then you will have nothing to show for it.

The best thing you can do is therefore to figure out where you can join to apply gentle pressure – trade organizations of any sort, special interest groups – and then show up, when there is an opportunity to do so, speak your case. And then let them do the heavy lifting for you.

That will effectively allow you to have a leg in both camps: On the one hand you’re trying to influence a development that furthers your ambition in the long run, while you’re busy executing on your business plan on the short term.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Twitter finally makes a move

The new Super Follower feature from Twitter looks super interesting; the ability for a user to offer special perks to followers, who choose to pay a monthly fee.

One thing, we should immediately be asking ourselves: What took Twitter so long?

Tiered access and perks is nothing new at all. Lots of different services have had it for years. Dating sites is a great example, where it has long been the norm, you couldn’t contact someone and keep a conversation going, unless you were a paying member.

It should be a slam dunk for Twitter.

Unless of course, they blow this too.

There probably isn’t a big service out there, who have botched so many opportunities to develop their product and their business model as Twitter has. Anyone remember Vine which was TikTok before someone in China got that idea. Thought so.

I do however think there is a chance that Twitter will get it right this time. I don’t think you should underestimate the profound change that occurred when Twitter finally decided to kick the former US president to the curb for life.

It was a watershed moment. The lid came off the tube, and Twitter is in a different place now. So they should be able to do this.

For users it will also be interesting. From the looks of it, it will be super easy to create a Super Follower package, set a price and cater to the needs of that special paying audience. When you enable opportunity and make it dead simple for people to take it up for themselves, usage usually follows.

For media it will also be very interesting. Twitter just made it super easy for any user with some insight and expertise in something to create their own personal brand and get compensated for it. At the same time Twitter has a reach built into it that most media companies can only dream of.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this – or something like this – ends up being a preferred go-to-market plan for journalistic talent that would otherwise have chosen the more traditional media route. And that will in itself carry yet another branch to the bonfire of old medias imploding business model.

Interesting times.

PS. Big hattip to Prof G who saw this coming from a mile.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The good firefighter

[Firefighters] understand that while the innovation might help the company overall, they fear that they might lose the success and respect they have built up by becoming good at solving problems in their current manner. Their identity is so closely associated with their work. If there is no need to go the extra mile anymore, they ask themselves how they can prove their value.

“Firefighters prevent innovation”, Nick Skillicorn

There is some truth to this. But it is also not doing justice to some of the best firefighters.

Because there are firefighters out there who not only put out fires but tirelessly work on helping ensure the prevention of new fires or old ones flaming up again.

They should be considered crown jewels of their organizations and treated as such. Absolutely priceless superstars that any organization should be lucky to have.